Watched Avatar twice in 3D, why?

Avatar screenshot

So leaving out all the stuff about the movie being racist and what ever people want to say about the film. I thought I’d have a look at the 3D technology behind the experience, but I can confirm I enjoyed the film and watched it twice. Why?

First time I watched in Odeon Manchester’s 3D cinema (note this is not a IMAX screen, although the same cinema does have one) before Christmas. Then again with a friend in Cardiff, while I was in Bristol. We got talking about Avatar and my friend had not seen it yet. But worst still he had never been to a IMAX cinema ever let alone to a 3D screening. So we drove all the way to Cardiff Bay (Bristol’s IMAX was suspend earlier in 2007 year and was due to be open again) to the Odeon IMAX there.

So to be clear both Odeon venues but one is IMAX 3D and the other one is just Odeon 3D. Most people think there the same but there not. Just one look at the different glasses will show you that.

There’s 3 main 3D systems, Imax 3D, RealD and Dolby 3D Digital Cinema. Obviously Imax 3D was first then RealD and now Dolby 3D. 3D vision blog has all the details you need for them all but I’ll stick to the two I experienced.

IMAX 3D

This one is the oldest of the three standards that is famous mostly because of the very big screens present in these cinemas, but they are still not very widely available around the world with most of the IMAX cinemas present in USA. Up until very recently IMAX 3D was only analogue with the movies being shot on large frame 70mm film in order to achieve good image quality on the larger screens these cinemas use, as compared to normal 35mm film. The digital version was introduced last year and still very few cinemas use that and the resolution and respectively the projection screen sizes for these implementations are not as big as on the analogue ones. IMAX uses big linear passive polarized plastic glasses for the viewers that do not provide the best possible experience. Anyway, getting back to the user experience, there is something very specific for IMAX 3D and that is the fact that the movies shown there are usually optimized for more pop-out screen effect than depth. This means that most of the time objects literally seem to pop out of the screen appearing as if you can touch them, kids do love this effect, but this is also more tiring for the brain. So usually longer movies are a bit of a problem to watch and Avatar is close to 3 hours, so you should be carefully consider this, especially if you feel a little “out of this world” when watching movies in an IMAX cinema. Some other drawbacks that are not always present and most of the people miss are the lower contrast in some dark scenes, a bit more ghosting of objects and problems refocusing your eyes quickly enough to follow the whole picture in fast action scenes and thus you might miss some important parts. Anyway IMAX 3D is certainly the most easy way to achieve the WOW effect with just about anyone that is watching his first stereoscopic 3D movie, but it this is not the first for you, then the other alternatives might be better…

RealD

This is a bit newer standard, but a digital one from its start… digital here meaning that the movies are recorded in a digital format and the projectors being used are also digital. RealD 3D cinemas uses circular polarized plastic glasses instead of linear polarized to provide better user experience when watching stereoscopic content. Circular polarization is considered to be better, because viewers are able to move their head as they like without the loss of the 3D depth effect. With the linear polarized glasses you have to be a bit steady, not moving around too much and sometimes you might have trouble finding the right position for your head in order to achieve the best effect when watching the movie to fully enjoy it. The circular polarized plastic glasses used here are also cheap to produce, but this technology requires the use of more expensive silver screen for projection which makes it a bit more expensive to implement. Still at the moment RealD is the most widely used standard for stereoscopic 3D movie projections all over the world, so you will most likely have one of these cinemas where you live. The immersion experience with RealD is a bit different compared to what you get at IMAX 3D projections as here the depth perception is of actual depth so the action is more going inside the screen, and not popping out of it. This does not make things less impressive, although some people might get a little disappointed at first if they were expecting to have the IMAX 3D pop-out effects, but after some time of watching they still get the feeling they are right in the middle of the action. This way of going more in the projection screen and not out of it is also easier on your brain as it is not that overloaded with information and is considered better for longer movies. Also it is easier to keep track of quick action scenes and the ghosting is usually less, so most of the people prefer this technology, although it is still not perfect.

And this is very consistent with my experience. The IMAX 3D glasses were massive and the effect was bigger and bolder that watching it on the RealD setup in Manchester. I thought it was down to the size of the screen but to be honest the IMAX screen in Cardiff wasn’t anything like the IMAX’s i’ve been to in London Waterloo, Minneapolis, etc. I got a feeling it might be one of those Fake IMAX screens.

One of the weird thing about the RealD setup was that the screen didn’t feel as sharp as the IMAX but that could just be the seat position. So for the win, watch Avatar in IMAX 3D for now.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.